Royal couple visit Australia town ravaged by bush fires

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Media captionThe Duke and Duchess met survivors of bush fires in the Blue Mountains

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have met Australian families whose homes were destroyed by wildfires last year.

During a tour of the Blue Mountains, the pair heard how one woman thought she was going to be roasted alive as flames swept through her house.

William and Kate visited a number of homes in the town of Winmalee, which was ravaged by the fires in October.

They also met firefighters who tackled the blazes and expressed their sadness at the devastation caused.

Their tour of the Blue Mountains region, near Sydney, was one of many activities planned as part of the second leg of their trip Down Under.

William, Kate and Prince George arrived in Australia on Wednesday, having completed a tour of New Zealand.

'Lovely people'

On Thursday, the duke and duchess heard how an inferno raged through the Blue Mountains area of New South Wales, destroying more than 100 homes in just a few short hours.

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Image caption The Duke of Cambridge meets firefighters during a visit to Winmalee, where homes were left devastated following bush fires last October

They stopped at Buena Vista Road, where half the homes were lost, and met Miranda Hansen.

The 67-year-old widow lost the home she built with her husband. William told her he and Kate were "very sorry" for her loss, she said.

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Image caption The duke says the viewing point of the Three Sisters is "a great place for a picnic"

"He said that when my house is rebuilt they are going to come back for a cup of tea with me. Isn't that lovely? They are really lovely people," Mrs Hansen said.

Describing the day she escaped her burning home, Mrs Hansen said: "There were cars everywhere. You couldn't move. I thought, 'Hello, I'm going to be barbecue here today.' But luckily we didn't."

William and Kate, who wore a Diane von Furstenberg dress and wedges, also met Eartha and Peter Odell, and their children Mia, nine, and Ty, six.

They lost their home as their daughter awaited an operation for a life-threatening brain condition.

Mrs Odell, 47, said the royal couple had been "personable and sincere", "very sweet and very warm".

"It's a very private thing, our land. It's very hard having everyone looking at it," she said.

"But for them to come all this way to say hello and 'I'm sorry this happened to you' - it means an awful lot. It did not seem like duty to them - it seemed like a pleasure."

'So sad'

A 400-strong crowd, including others who had lost their homes, lined the street to greet William and Kate.

The land still bears the scars of the inferno, with flattened plots where houses once stood and blackened tree trunks.

William and Kate also visited a metal girl guide hut that had been used as a community centre during the clean-up operation. They planted a tree and also spoke to firefighters who tackled the bush fires.

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Image caption The duke and duchess, pictured here at Narrow Neck Lookout, heard different accounts of how people lost their homes in last year's bush fires
Image copyright AP
Image caption The pair planted a summer red eucalyptus tree with girl guides, who shouted "princess" instead of "cheese" as they posed for photos

The duchess asked questions about the fire and relief effort, and fresh from her meetings with the families whose homes were destroyed, she said: "It's so sad for the families."

She also said it was "amazing" to finally visit Australia after having wanted to for "such a long time".

The duke and duchess will spend 10 days travelling across the country, visiting its famous sites, honouring its war dead and meeting locals.

Earlier, they visited Echo Point in Katoomba to see the famous Three Sisters rock formation, where they were also greeted by Aboriginal elders representing the indigenous landowners.

The elders presented the duke and duchess with a possum skin coat for Prince George and a kangaroo coat for themselves.

"That's fantastic thank you very much, he'll love that - very warm," William said of the gift for his baby son.

According to elder Aunty Sharon Brown, chairwoman of the Gundungurra Tribal Council, a baby would traditionally be given a possum cloak with another pelt added to the garment for significant milestones during its life.

'Very impressed'

They were also greeted by around 3,000 well-wishers, who lined crash barriers at Echo Point.

Anthea Hammon, joint managing director of Scenic World, which runs the visitor centre at the beauty spot, guided the duchess, while the duke spoke with Randall Walker, chief executive of Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism.

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Image caption One woman told the pair how she thought she would be roasted alive in the bush fires that claimed her home
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The royal couple were taken to a viewing point as they toured the Blue Mountains region
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Image caption Around 3,000 people lined crash barriers at Echo Point in Katoomba to greet the couple
Image copyright AP
Image caption The pair will spend 10 days in total touring Australia
Image copyright AP
Image caption William and Kate arrived in Sydney on Wednesday, having completed a tour of New Zealand

After speaking to Kate, Ms Hammon said: "She loved it, it's a pretty stunning day. She was amazed about how far you could see.

"I was talking to her a little bit about bush walking, she likes walking and there's lots of places to walk here in the Blue Mountains. She said she was keen to come back."

The royal couple also did a walkabout, meeting the crowds who had waited to greet them.

Sarah Barman, 22, said: "William came over and said 'what a great spot for a picnic'. He was so charming, he was lovely, I've been waiting three hours but it was worth it."

Meanwhile, the pair narrowly avoided a minor incident, which happened before they arrived in the town of Winmalee to meet the bush fire survivors.

Two men had allegedly harassed some locals, who had gathered to greet the royal couple, before being moved on by police.

A New South Wales Police spokesman confirmed the pair were moved on from the area before the motorcade drove past.

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